Why your shower is making you dirty


It may sound a little ridiculous, but it’s highly likely that your shower is making you dirty. Even dirtier than before you stepped in, that is.

That’s because most showerheads are overlooked during routine household cleans (even the obligatory “Spring clean”), and are in fact an excellent place for the growth and proliferation of harmful microbes. Even if you have a filter on your shower, most are only designed to remove chlorine and inorganic compounds from your water, not nasty microscopic pathogenic invaders.

Research shows that the most common harmful microbes which inhabit your shower heads are “atypical mycobacteria” otherwise known as nontuberculosis mycobacteria. These little gremlins are naturally found in low concentrations all around us, in the water and soil (keep it cool, if you start looking around wildly people will think you’re a bit wacky), but can be suspended in the air by the process of evaporation or mist. Once in the air, these nasty little numbers can enter your lungs and start creating trouble.

Under normal conditions, our exposure to atypical mycobacteria is minimal, with their low concentrations in water and soil presenting little risk of infection. The conditions created in that innocent-seeming showerhead, however, are ideal for the colonization and rapid spread of this bacterial strain, meaning exposure levels are sharply increased and putting you at risk every single time you step into the shower. While various things around the house can harbor these pathogens, shower heads have been shown to have by far the highest concentration of these troublesome critters.

Atypical bacteria belong to the same family as those which cause tuberculosis (hence the name “nontuberculosis mycobacteria”, to differentiate them from their more dangerous cousins), and while they aren’t life-threatening, they can cause all manner of health problems. These include skin infections, lung infections, sinus problems, lymph node infection, and other negative interactions on your skin and in your bloodstream. People with a weakened or compromised immune system are particularly at risk, or those with open wounds or pre-existing skin conditions (such as dandruff or eczema).

And just because you’re healthy doesn’t mean you’re not at risk. All it takes is a bad sleep, a stressful day, a pre-existing cold or flu or too much exercise to put you in the danger zone. At this point, your immune system lacks the strength to fight these bacterial strains from entering your body through the water vapor you breathe in while showering, and you can quickly begin to show symptoms like coughing, difficulty breathing, fever, or general weakness and lethargy.

How to clean your shower head

Luckily, the solution is a simple one. Make cleaning your shower heads part of your regular cleaning routine, at least once a month but preferably every 2 weeks. You can remove the showerhead completely, sit it in a large bowl, then pour white vinegar into the bowl until the showerhead is fully submerged. Leave it there for a couple of hours, get rid of the vinegar, and reattach the showerhead. It’s that simple!

But if that wasn’t simple enough, there’s an even easier way. If you’ve got some large ziplock bags lying around, half fill one with white vinegar, secure the bag to your shower head with a sturdy rubber band, and leave in place for 2-3 hours, making sure the vinegar completely immerses the shower head. As with before, throw away the vinegar and repeat at least once a month to keep those nasty mycobacteria at bay!

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